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AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM 2.03 ‘Nor’Easter’

Sudden character shifts and enormous coincidences send the series spiraling in a lackluster direction.

Episode Title: "Nor'Easter"

Written by: Jennifer Salt

Directed by: Michael Uppendahl

Previously on “American Horror Story: Asylum”:

Episode 2.02 'Tricks and Treats'
 

Aaaaaaaaaand… you lost me. Right here. This is the episode. It’s not a complete wash, I was still entertained, but all hope for a modicum of subtlety has been dashed, perhaps forever.

“American Horror Story: Asylum” is not, as has been clear since the first episode of this season (again, I did not watch the first season), a subtle program. The series boasts serial killers, aliens, ghosts, demons, zombies, mental institution malpractice, nymphomaniacs, evil Catholics and mad scientists. But the first episode of the series managed to introduce all those elements in a way that deftly intertwined them, established intriguing characters and storylines and promised an air of mystery and creepiness that would have, one assumed, kept the outlandish elements subdued enough that they could sparkle without blinding the audience with showiness.

That’s exactly what happened this week on “Nor’Easter,” which opens with the modern day victims of the framing device running into a second Bloody Face. They are subdued, probably killed by the two serial murderers who take off their masks to reveal two douchebags we’ve never seen before (I am assuming they are douchebags, what with the murders and all) on a killing spree. They are remark that neither of them tore their victims’ arm off, implying another mystery, before running into a third Bloody Face, and by that point it feels like they’re just jerking us around. That’s one hell of a coincidence, two Bloody Face copycat murderers running into the real bloody face when there’s probably a demon lurking around too.

“Nor’Easter” also presses forward with the new demonic possession subplot. Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) has a monster inside her, and while she’s effectively playing Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) and Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) off of each other, she’s also being impossibly blunt about it and acting so egregiously out of character – for the non-possessed Mary Eunice, that is – that it’s amazing that nobody’s noticed, even if they haven’t necessarily put two and two together. She attempts to blatantly seduce Dr. Arden, who is offended by her harlotry, but he attributes the complete, sudden 180 reversal as a response to being locked up with the inmates of Briarcliff asylum. She also murders an inmate and feeds her to what we now see are mutants, zombies or perhaps just failed Dr. Arden experiments lurking in the woods just outside of Briarcliff.

The plot this week focuses on yet another escape attempt by Lana (Sarah Paulson), Kit (Evan Peters) and Grace (Lizzie Brocheré), this time under the distraction of a powerful thunderstorm and a “movie night” in the common room, an attempt to calm the inmates during the raucous weather. That Sister Jude decides to show The Signs of the Cross, a pro-Christian but also sexy and violent Cecil B. DeMille epic is yet another overt, probably too overt, example of “American Horror Story: Asylum’s” attempts to juxtapose the religious with the perverse. Lana has warmed towards Kit after Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) attempts to relay a message to her girlfriend, only to find evidence of foul play that could prove Kit’s innocence if the police will listen to him (they won’t).

They are assisted in this particular escape attempt by Shelley (Chloe Sevigny), who seduces a guard but is then the victim of attempted rape by Dr. Arden, who has gone completely bug nuts, tarting up statues of the Virgin Mary, smashing them and telling Kit that government factions are after him, implying a perhaps Nazi past. When his rape attempt fails due to mechanical failure (ahem), Arden takes his revenge on Shelley by surgically removing her lower legs, in the most shocking and horrifying moment of an episode too flamboyant to really enjoy any others, even though they were probably creepy on paper.

In short (ahem again), I’m not enjoying the ramped up pacing that “American Horror Story: Asylum” is currently providing. It plays like we’re in the third act already, and we still have over half a season to go. There are too many coincidences and broad character shifts – Arden’s devolution into supervillainy, Mary Eunice’s evolution into supervillainy, Sister Jude’s near comic drunkenness (although she does spy a demon lurking the halls, shades no doubt of things to come) to take it very seriously right now. I’m not sure “American Horror Story: Asylum” can come back from this. I’m not sure it wants to. I may just have to adjust to the outré carnival sideshow the series has turned into, and bid a tearful farewell to the eerie, complex and unique horror yarn it promised in the impressive first episode.